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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-11-11 06:50
Emma by Jane Austen
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (Chartwell Classics) - Jane Austen







TITLE:  The Complete Novels of Jane Austen


AUTHOR:  Jane Austen


EDITION:  Chartwell Classics


FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  978-0785834212




"Jane Austen revolutionized the literary romance, using it as a platform from which to address issues of gender politics and class consciousness among the British middle-class of the late eighteenth century. The novels included in the collection - Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan - represent all of Austen's complete novels, and provide the reader with an entrance into the world she and her memorable characters inhabited.

With witty, unflinching morality, Austen portrays English middle-class life as the eighteenth century came to a close and the nineteenth century began. Austen's heroines find happiness in many forms, each of the novels is a story of love and marriage -- marriage for love, financial security and for social status.


In a publishing career that spanned less than ten years her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime. It wasn't until the 1940s that she became widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a fan culture. Austen's works continue to influence the course of the novel even as they charm readers today."




Notes on the Physical Book


The physical hardcover book is quite large, fat and heavy with a pretty dust jacket.  The paper is bright white and of good quality.  The text is standard sized, similar in size to the Oxford World's Classics series.  The book includes an introduction by Jennifer C. Garlen, a section on the life and times of Jane Austen, reviews and notices, and a section of suggested reading.


Sense & Sensibility [3 stars]


Jane Austen originally published this novel, in 1811, anonymously - "By A Lady" appeared on the title page in place of the author's name.  Sense and Sensibility is the coming of age story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood; two sisters with different personalities (one sensible and one emotional) who each experience romance and heartbreak. 


Personally, I found the main characters and the majority of the secondary characters to be overly nice and for the most part terribly bland and more similar than different.  The majority of the men also appear overly spineless since they can't seem to do anything without mommy's permission or they might loose their inheritance [this is ridiculous - go find something useful to do and make your own fortune!]  Despite all the courting drama and descriptions of hysterics in the novel, I found that the story lacked passion.  It was all very proper and civilized... and bland.  I also couldn't help the mental image of everyone going about their business with huge, florescent price tags stuck to their shirts.


I'm not quite sure why this is such a lauded classic, unless whole generations of impressionable girls were forced to read this and then inflicted it on their own children.



Pride & Prejudice  [4 stars]


I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice more than Sense and Sensibility.  The characters were more rounded/flawed, with more variety; the pacing a bit faster. This is a novel that revolves around relationships - not just romantic relationships, but those of friends, family and other acquantances.  The novel also provides something of a social commentary in terms of the limits imposed on women inheriting property and class structure.  There is also a great deal of humour in this novel that I missed on the first read.  I do find the female obsession with marriage and marrying someone with lots of money rather irritating, but then that's what was required in that time period if you didn't want to end up destitute or dependant on some other relative.  Context (social structure, society, time period etc) really is important with books like this, otherwise all the characters come off as shallow and the plot insipid.  The book is not too long winded with some delightfully pithy clauses.

An interesting thing I noticed on the second read was that the reader initially only learns about Mr Darcy through the observations and dialogues of other people, so the reader essentially aquires the same prejudices against him that Elizabeth Bennet has.  

NOTE This is not a historical fiction novel.  Jane Austen was writing novels about contemporary life (to her), especially the problems facing young women in her own social class (the country gentry).



Mansfield Park [1 star]


All Austen's novels are social commentaries in one way or another, and one could mine Mansfield Park for all sorts of things such as the marriage market, child abuse, child rearing practises (or lack therof), morality, family dynamics etc.  But I found this novel to be rather dull, long-winded and superficial, with nothing substantial happening until the last third of the book.  I can't say I was terribly impressed with the very convenient ending either.  The majority of the characters were also rather flat, lacking depth, and essentially forgetable.  Mrs Norris is terrifyingly devious and manipulative, and would have made a better villain assuming there was someone stronger (or at least more vocal) than Fanny to use as her favourite target.  But Austen didn't write that book.  She wrote the tedious Mansfield Park instead.  Karma is a bitch, but it still doesn't make up for slogging through 400 pages. 



Emma [2 stars]


This novel has a tedious beginning, but does pick up pace eventually.  There is also too much "tell" and not enough "show".  I can't say I was terribly impressed with this novel, but it was better than Mansfield Park.  In someone else's hands, this might have been a comedy along the lines of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  But it's not.  The plot was superficial and the main character highly annoying.  The setting is too idyllic - the worst thing that happens is a bit of snow and a breeze [I'm beginning to wonder if a digression into the Paris sewer system would be preferable?].  Everyone is in perfect health except for the occasional sniffles.


Emma is a snobbish, entitled, arrogant, bored, callous, hypocritical, immature, know-it-all, busybody who has decided to play match-maker for all and sundry.  And she somehow comes out of the whole affair with no consequences to herself.  Miss Bates could have used less ink time - a lot of irrelevant babbling just doesn't do anything for me.  Then again, a whole many pages could have been burned since the characters did nothing but babble about the proverbial weather or how "pleasant" and "agreeable" so-an-so was.  All the characters are "agreeable"!  Heaven forbid we have someone that is NOT agreeable and charming and nice!!!  I'm assuming Mr Woodhouse has issues (agoraphobia and hypochondria comes to mind), if not, he is just plain silly.  Mr Knightley is the only redeeming aspect of this book, until one of those very convenient WTF moments.  Come to think of it, I liked Mr John Knightley a great deal as well.  He didn't waste any words!  I also have the impression Austen got bored of her own novels and just ended them in the most expedient manner possible to get a happily ever after.


NOTE:  If this is supposed to be a social commentary of some sort, it is extremely narrow in focus (wealthy landed gentry) and highly idealized.



Northanger Abbey


To be read





To be read



Lady Susan


To be read


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review 2019-10-21 07:16
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Agnes Grey - Angeline Goreau,Anne Brontë

TITLE:  Agnes Grey


AUTHOR:  Anne Brontë



                                 [First Published 1847]



Agnes Grey is the touching story of a young girl who decides to enter the world as a governess, but whose bright illusions of acceptance, freedom and friendship are gradually destroyed.

Drawing on her own experience, Anne Brontë charts the development of gentle Agnes and sympathetically depicts the harsh treatment she receives along the way. Leaving her idyllic home and close-knit family, Agnes arrives at the Bloomfield’s residence, inside whose walls reign cruelty and neglect. Although faced with tyrannical children and over-indulgent parents, the generosity of spirit and warm candour learnt from her own family never desert her. Agnes also remains firm in the Murray household, where she is used by the two disdainful young daughters for their own deceitful ends and where her chances of happiness are almost spoiled for her.
A deeply moving account, Agnes Grey seriously discusses the contempt and inhumanity shown towards the poor though educated woman of the Victorian age, whose only resource was to become a governess.




Agnes Grey draws on Anne Brontë's experiences as a governess.  Anne wanted to write a novel that showed the many difficulties, indignities, and discriminations a governess faces while carrying her duties - with the purpose of reform in mind.  The novel is also something of a study of human behaviour and society, as well as relationships.  The families who Agnes works for make "The Addams Family" look tame and perfectly normal.  The plot is straight forward and the writing not too long-winded and verbose.  The prose is acutally quite beautiful.  This book comes across as quiet and peaceful without melodrama, but it still somehow draws the reader in.  Also, unlike many novels written in this time period, Agnes does not wait around for a man to marry her and "save" her.  She is capable of being independant and making her own decisions. 


This Penguin Classics edition has additional material including a chronology, an introduction (which deals with Brontë family dynamics and reviewer criticism), a bibliographical notice of Ellis and Acton Bell, notes and further reading.

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review 2019-09-30 05:24
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

Not the long-winded, soppy love story I was expecting!  Though there were a few very convenient coincidences and occurences which made me raise my eyebrows.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-09-16 07:46
Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas
Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker - Alexandre Dumas,E.T.A. Hoffmann,Jack Zipes,Joachim Neugroschel

TITLE:   Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker  [Penguin Classics]


AUTHORS:  E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas


TRANSLATION:  Joachim Neugroschel


FORMAT:  Paperback




ISBN-13:  9780143104834



"The original stories behind everyone's favorite Christmas ballet

It wasn't until the 1950s that seeing The Nutcracker at Christmastime became an American tradition. But the story itself is much older and its original intent more complex. This eye-opening new volume presents two of the tale's earliest versions, both in new translations: E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker and Mouse King (1816), in which a young girl is whisked away to the Land of Toys to help her animated nutcracker defeat the Mouse King, and Alexandre Dumas's 1845 adaptation, The Tale of the Nutcracker, based on Hoffmann's popular work. Irresistible tales of magic, mystery, and childhood adventure, these timeless delights and fresh interpretations about the importance of imagination will captivate readers of all ages.




An entertaining and cute story about a girl and her Nutcracker.  More extensive than the ballet based on this story.



PS:  This story has a scary 7-headed Rat King if anyone is still looking for Halloween Bingo Creepy Crawlies?  Terry Pratchett's Maurice and his Educated Rodents also has rats and multiheaded rat king.


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review 2019-02-20 18:17
The Tudor Rose - Margaret Campbell Barnes
Tudor Rose - Margaret Campbell Barnes

There is just something about older historical fiction. Whether it's Barnes, Plaidy, or Seton, there is just something about the writing style that most modern historical fiction misses. I just can't imagine any of my grandchildren reading anything by Philippa Gregory and commenting on the serenely, lyrical way Gregory sets a scene. Because she doesn't. That's a story for a different time folks.


One of the things I enjoy most about books set during this time period is seeing how the authors deal with some of the more controversial happenings of the day. In this instance, the characterization of Richard III and the mystery surrounding to what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Barnes deals with both in a believable manner. Richard III isn't some hunchbacked, snarling, fork-bearded bad guy bent on ruling with an iron fist. He's not an overly romanticized nice guy by any means. Does Barnes believe Richard III to be responsible for the death of Edward V and his younger brother Richard? Absolutely. She uses the Tyrell argument which some might find weak. However, it's important to take into account when this book was written. That was the primary theory at the time. Barnes doesn't try to argue anything from left field. She works with the evidence as presented at the time. She's not trying to re-invent the wheel. It works for this story.


One of the other things I enjoyed about Barnes' storytelling was the manner in which she portrayed Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Personally, I think Margaret tends to be over vilified. She was a product of her raising and the times. She held to her faith in God and her son. Do I think she was a little overbearing as a mother-in-law? As someone who knows a thing or two about an overbearing mother-in-law, yes. Margaret probably was a bit much to handle. Do I think she was as easy going and loving as Barnes wants us to believe? Not quite. I don't think you get to where Margaret got in life by being full of sunshine and daisies. I also wasn't a huge fan of how Barnes continued to try to convince me that Beaufort was head over heels in love with her first husband and Henry's father, Edmund Tudor. Margaret knew the man for all of five minutes before he made her pregnant and then died after being captured in battle. She was 12 when they were married. Trying to convince me she was head over heels in love with the man is going to take a lot of work. 


If I'm going to compare Elizabeth of York stories, I will say I like Plaidy's interpretation just a tad better. Barnes' Elizabeth comes off a little weak and at times flighty. However, her love for England and her family can never be doubted. Overall, it's a pleasant story and makes for an enjoyable, light read. 

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